Okefenokee Joe – Garden & Gun

If we don’t slow down and stop at the end of the country road behind Grace Acres, At my family’s hunting grounds in southeastern Georgia, a yellow-and-black striped road sign warns that you must cross a highway and descend a steep levee to enter the Nine Run Marsh. increase. That sign has a place to hang the diamond rattlesnake you killed.

Did any other small southern town do this? I don’t know. All I know from childhood is that he could count one, two, sometimes three Diamondbacks draped over the sign in stages of decline. That’s just what people did. When they found Diamondback, they killed it and threw it over the billboard for the neighbors to see.

North of us in Claxton, Georgia, Wranglers spread out in the dunes each year, pouring gasoline from garden hoses into gopher burrows. Gas fumes washed away the rattlesnake Diamondback in his Roundup, after which Star his attractions became belts and boots.

My childhood was tough for snakes.

If I hadn’t attended a small primary school in Waycross, I might have become one of those people who killed snakes as a cultural tradition. The school was located 11 miles from the privately owned Okefenokee Wetlands Park on the northern border of the famous National Wildlife Refuge. Although I recall many school excursions to the park where we could get a glimpse of the wildlife and history of Okefenokee from safe, guided boats and boardwalks without sensationalizing or exploiting nature like Florida’s alligator farms. There was enough Stucky’s gift shop I remember the tall, soft-spoken and powerful man who showed us the snake. big snake. harmless snake. deadly snake. He exclaimed about them and instilled in me not only respect and caution, but also charm.

I didn’t know I was witnessing the origin story of a modern day superhero.

When you are shown a dangerous snake slipping through the end of a stick, you forget about the person and the memory of the snake comes back to life. I remember Dick Flood as clearly as his snake. His passion and talent for sharing the joy of snakes with children was not confined to a small park. So in the late 1970s he began putting on snake shows in schools in Georgia and other states. My wife Anne grew up an hour north of my girlfriend in Statesboro across from Claxton. She remembers sitting on the floor of the auditorium with an elementary school classmate and watching him unlock the lids of her wooden boxes, one at a time. Hooked on a pole, she slowly lifts the invisible resident into view. Some of them growled.

During his Itinerant School Assembly days, he took on the name Okefenokee Joe. Joe’s fame and influence extend far beyond Dick’s Flood’s moderately successful Nashville singing and songwriting career in the 1950s and his ’60s, far bigger than a small park in Waycross. became. He tuned his guitar from Country to Conservation. The sound left the park, hit the road, and was eventually digitized. Millions of people watched his Emmy-winning documentary on public television. swampwise When snake joystill showing airtime and being watched on YouTube.

Sometime in the early 2000s, when I walked out into the aisle of the Georgia Wildlife Federation’s “Bakkarama” exposition, I saw a white-haired Okefenokee Joe sitting in a booth. I approached in awe, introduced myself, and told him that I had met him many times in Swamp Park when I was a student. Among the wide-eyed school kids, he spoke to me as if he remembered me personally, but of course he didn’t. An ambassador of nature as authentic and unpretentious as you’ll see in his shows and heard in his songs. When I learned that he passed away on January 9 at the age of 90, I was happy to see him one last time, sharing his joy with him as he was still there.

In Grace Acres I haven’t seen a rattlesnake on a road sign in decades, but I haven’t seen a rattlesnake either. My father is restoring longleaf pines to their original location.My family has started noticing the return of native wildflowers, fox squirrels, swallowtail butterflies and most recently young gopher tortoises. My generation of kids who sat cross-legged on the floor in awe of Okefenokee Joe helped transform the Claxton Rattlesnake Roundup into the Claxton Rattlesnake & Wildlife Festival in 2012.

I don’t kill snakes Neither harmless nor poisonous snakes. A trained educator, Ann held a snake in her arms for a while at his Nature Center in Chattahoochee in Atlanta, teaching school groups about snakes like Joe. She doesn’t kill them either. Our children don’t kill snakes. We stand in their wonder.

That is the legacy of Okefenokee Joe.

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is a Georgia native journalist, hunter, angler, and chief communications officer for the non-profit National Deer Association.

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